Today’s blog will get rather heavy and sensitive as I go over what took place during the later portion of my day. But first, I will start off light by discussing my eventful morning shopping until I literally dropped.
We first went to Ben Tanh Market in the morning to expose ourselves to Vietnam’s notorious market known for overcharging its prices to foreigners. Part of the main attraction about this market is that you have to bargain to get a good deal on what you want. I knew this day would come so I saved up a lot of dong in preparation to shop like crazy. And with my skills in bartering in Vietnamese I learned from school, I was ready than ever to make a good deal on my purchases. So with my wallet stuffed in my pocket full of dong that I was ready to make vendors work for, I charged into the market by myself. I scoured the aisles in search of anything my family would like. Given they have specific taste, it took me a while until I found something worth bartering for. Eventually I stumbled upon something I liked and began reaching for it to take a closer look. The store vendor saw me and immediately approached me asking what I wanted. We got in a quick exchange between how much the good was and how much I was willing to pay for it. During the beginning, I only spoke in English and pretended I didn’t know any Vietnamese to test whether the vendor would give me a good deal or not. When I noticed that the vendor would no longer decrease the price to an “American” like me, I whipped out my Vietnamese and impressed her. Startled and caught off guard, I began negotiating with her upon a price that I would be most satisfied with. This went on for a while until I finally exhausted her. The price she was asking was still not within my request so I decided to use my last resort: I walked away. Doing this, the vendor called after me and grabbed my hand to come back. She pulled me back to her shop and agreed on selling the good for my asking price which was 50% off its original price. Trying to hold in my obnoxious smile, I quickly thanked her for doing good business with me and I walked away in search of what I wanted to buy next. We were only given an hour to shop, but by the end I had explored almost the entire market and left with an impressive number of bags in my hands. I was able to get a good deal on almost all the goods I bought—50% off the listed price—and felt ecstatic with accomplishing my goals I had set for myself. It honestly took so much energy out of me that when I got back on the bus, I slumped to my seat and gave a huge sigh—smiling down at my bag of goods that I had worked so hard for.
For obvious reasons, this manner of shopping is entirely different from what takes place back in the United States. For one, a bartering system does not exist in the U.S. If there is something you like, you have to pay it in full no matter what, unless you have a discount. There is no such thing as negotiating with the seller and agreeing upon a price that both parties will be content with. Another striking difference between shopping in Vietnam and in the U.S. is etiquette. At the Ben Tanh Market, vendors constantly yelled at me and forced me to buy something from their shop through physical means. It definitely didn’t reach the point where I felt unsafe, but it is certainly different than back in the states where store owners will mind your personal space and it will only approach you if you have any questions.
This bartering system was very interesting to observe and take part in because during our trip so far, never were there any indications of bartering as being in the Vietnamese business culture. An explanation for this could be due to development in Vietnam shifting the way businesses operate in Vietnam to a more straightforward and efficient approach like in the U.S. Only in Ben Tanh Market did we notice bargaining as being the predominant form of business. It makes you wonder whether it will still exist in the near future as Vietnam continues to evolve.
Now since I have greatly been influenced by American culture, I can’t easily say I prefer the method of bartering in Vietnam to the method of shopping I have grown so used to in the United States. However, since I am very cautious when it comes to what I spend, I do believe if given time I would eventually pick up on the bartering system and be perfectly fine with it. Plus, bartering today was such an awesome feeling that I can totally imagine myself doing it again. In fact, it fueled me and I am eager to just go back and practice my negotiating skills some more.
During the afternoon, we had a lesson on the Theory of Buddhism. We learned about the history of Buddha and how it fits into Vietnam’s culture.
Basically the five precepts in Buddhism are:
- No killing
- No stealing
- No sexual misbehavior
- no harmful language
- No use of intoxicants
If you follow all these rules, you are on the right track and practicing Buddhism appropriately. And in truth, after learning about Buddhism, I suddenly got the urge to further my knowledge of the religion since it genuinely piqued my interest. Besides being a vegetarian, I think some of the principles in Buddhism have some merit to them and are worth following.
So in Vietnam, Buddhism is widely practiced by many Vietnamese and has two main celebrations each year. The first one is Buddha’s Birthday which is mainly a day of appreciation for the birth of Buddha and his influence on so many lives. The second one is Vu Lan Day, which is a Buddhist festival designed for young Vietnamese to express their gratefulness and appreciation for their mothers. The festival is a reminder for many Vietnamese to respect and love their parents no matter their ongoing relationship. Both of these celebrations are even observed and respected by government leaders. Surprisingly, the Communist government allows religious freedoms and is therefore why Vietnam is comprised of so many different religious beliefs. Not to mention, many businessmen love discussing Buddhism and charity activities. It is basically a good conversation starter and a religion that has molded into what Vietnam stands for today.
After the lesson, we visited the Ngoc Hoang Pagoda, aka “The God” Pagoda. The Pagoda was designed and built by the Chinese with a large wooden statue of Buddha erected in the center. People all over the world flock to this Pagoda and pray for fertility and love, the main spiritual powers offered here. I am not a Buddhist, but I still paid my respects by offering incense to the Buddha statue and by praying to it. It was a very different experience than what I am used to but I enjoyed it nonetheless. Specifically, this Pagoda serves great significance in the United States’ history with Vietnam since President Obama paid a visit to this Pagoda back in 2016 when he came to Vietnam to solidify relations. Obama’s actions here symbolize the unity between the two countries and a promise to cooperate with each other in the future.
Now for the toughest part of the day. Before I continue though, I want to strongly advise readers to be cautious of some of the photos that will follow because they may be very graphic. However, I feel that it is a necessary part of my job to show these photos in order for you all to gain insight into the Vietnam War from the perspective of the Vietnamese as depicted by the government.
When we reached the War Remnants Museum, the sky started to rain. Perhaps it was an omen for things to come. I had no idea at the time of course.
Usually a museum doesn’t affect me much, but touring the War Remnants Museum really struck a cord in me as I constantly fought to hold back my tears. I understood that everything shown in the museum was done instrumentally by the Vietnamese government to depict them as the heroes of the war, but the things I saw and read still were extremely upsetting and appalling to me.
The huge takeaway I got from visiting this museum was that the Americans in the Vietnam War were no heroes. Many American soldiers committed war crimes as they went on killing sprees and massacred innocent civilians all over Vietnam. Some of the atrocities these American soldiers did in Vietnam were unspeakable and got my stomach churning as I tried to hold my composure.
“When these two boys were shot at, the older one fell on the little one, as if to protect him. Then the guys finished them off”.
-Anonymous American Soldier, War Remnants Museum
Not to mention the United States’ deadly weapon Agent Orange, which they released into the forests of Vietnam, ultimately impacted the lives of many Vietnamese. We saw photo after photo of Vietnamese that were affected by Agent Orange, and each photo only pushed me further to the edge of crying. It was just so sad and shocking to see all these innocent children born with defects and abnormalities as a result of the United States’ doing. We probably had no idea about the long term effects of Agent Orange back then, but I still think it is important to educate Americans back home about our responsibility for harming the lives of so many innocent Vietnamese still to this day.
With that said, at the end of the day we have to understand that this museum was created by the communist government of Vietnam and everything that was shown is not the full story. One of my friends in Vietnam got that, and after the tour told me he didn’t like being in the museum since not everything that was portrayed in there was true and that the government is hiding any information that sheds a bad light on them. Truthfully, no one can ever understand the true story of the war since everything is a matter of perspective. If anything, the best way to get a bigger picture of what went down during the Vietnam War is to take what we learned in America and what the government has revealed here in Vietnam and put something together that will hopefully address any missing links.
I hope you all learned something from this blog and remember to not always trust everything you see or read. Remember: no one will ever give you the full story. It is up to you to finish it off.
Until next time friends
PS for those interested in the treatment of prisoners during the Vietnam War, here are a list of torturing techniques used against them: